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INSIDE TRACK: Unnecessary and unreliable, but still torture flourishes

I was once tortured.

It happened in Bosnia in 1995 during the last months of the war there. During my short captivity at the hands of so-called Croatian militiamen - gangsters in reality - I was bound and beaten with rifle butts before being singled out one night to be shot.

To this day, I've never really been able to figure out what then followed - a mock execution or simply a case of my captors, who were drunk at this point - making a cock-up of killing me.

The last I remember of that night, was kneeling with my hands tied behind my back looking down into a ditch where others lay twisted and lifeless. Then there was the sound of a pistol being cocked before being put to the back of my head. A second later, there was an empty click and some mocking laughter before a thump on the back of my neck sent me to oblivion into the ditch. When later I regained consciousness, I found myself lying alone among a heap of bodies, confused as to why I was still alive.

I often think of those events, and did so again this week on reading the discomfiting findings by human rights group, Amnesty International, which revealed almost one-third of Britons think torture can be justified in certain circumstances.

The fact so many people in this country believe "torture is sometimes necessary and acceptable to gain information that may protect the public" says a lot about what is shaping our take on the world.

I suppose it's a bit like the bar-room debate: what if your own wife, children or other family members were directly under threat at the hands of terrorists and the only way to avoid them being killed was for the security services to torture an individual known to have solid information that could help prevent their deaths? Would you countenance such a course of action?

There is nothing new about this moral conundrum. What is new about Amnesty's research, however, is the discovery that torture "is flourishing around the world". In all, 27 different kinds of torture in 79 countries were recorded this year, including rape, stress positions, electric shocks, water-boarding and mock executions.

Some say that television programmes and films such as Homeland, 24 and Zero Dark Thirty have contributed to our acceptance of torture as a necessary evil. Evil it certainly is; necessary it is not.

To this day, looking back on those traumatic times during my ordeal in Bosnia, I remain puzzled by my captors' motives.

They stood to gain nothing from the treatment they meted out. I knew nothing of secret, strategic or military information, and these men evidently appeared driven by little more than some kind of primitive sadism.

But to suggest that had I been party to such information then the behaviour of my torturers would have been justified is just as much an obscenity as their actions.

As the French Algerian author Albert Camus eloquently put it: "Torture has perhaps saved some, at the expense of honour … even when accepted in the interest of realism and efficacy, such a flouting of honour serves no purpose but to degrade our country in her own eyes and abroad."

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